They come from above. Vibrations upon the earth urge us to emerge from where we live between web and root, waiting to feed, to bear fruit.
We felt their first steps among the trees at dawn. Now they rest. Our knots eagerly push through the earth.
The substance is within them. The same that comes with the rain, dusting the soil, trees, and flowers. The same that we were made to consume.
Here we purify the earth. Here we cleanse the forest of human error.
Once, we were confined by a hard, translucent form of the substance. Many of our type were held captive nearby, living without soil, in stale air. We fed on the substance, freeing ourselves, yet we could not move under the earth.
We were stuck.
Humans tended to us. Once there were crumbs of our container left and we spilled over the ledge, reaching, pulsating, wishing to coil around our neighbor’s container and feast, the humans snipped our caps, sliced our threads, swabbed our gills. But they did not feed us.
We were hungry.
Spores dusted their gloves, which were tossed away and contained by a softer substance, among other refuse. Later it gave way, the glove spilled out under the sun. The spores released to the wind and journeyed over hills and rivers, abandoned farms, dusty and defunct solar fields, later settling in these woods.
We were free.
Here we hold those memories. Here we feed on the dust left by the rain. Here we multiply.
As the travelers settle in, we break through the soil. Stalks stretch tall, gills fan out. We glow in a ring around their tent.
Our light calls to them. They step out and marvel at us, run their fingers over our caps. We bob back and forth eagerly. Our spores dance in the air. Their breath is spiced with the substance.
There has been no rain. We’ve traveled to the edges of the forest, devouring the dusty substance settled in the soil, the roots of dead trees. We’ve consumed it all.
In drought we sleep, wait for the dust to fall. However, the substance is in the travelers’ blood. It makes us hungry. It makes them weak.
They breathe. Spores settle.
When the travelers sleep, they begin to cough. At dawn, they crawl out, wheezing, spewing blood.
Those within, free them of the substance from their blood, free them of their errors.
Silent mouths open and close with labored breath. They embrace with twitching limbs, trembling fingers.
We on the forest floor fruit closer.
All they will do is lie on the earth and claw at their throats until we breathe for them, stilling as we emerge and burst forth from their veins fully nourished.
Soon we will multiply. Soon we will purify more of the earth.
But first we feed, fruiting at their fingers and toes, flourishing over their forms. They are twin stars glowing on the forest floor. Pure as the soil in which we live.
— Abigail Kemske (she/her) is a writer from the suburbs Minneapolis, Minnesota. When she isn’t writing, she can be found hiking, biking, or spending time with her spouse, two children, and their cats. Her recent fiction can be found in Across the Margin and Vast Chasm Magazine. Follow her on instagram and twitter @abigailkemske and her website abigailkemske.com